May 11, 2016

PPD’s 2016 Plans Include Contact, Education, Prevention, Communication

Images of police in the news media and in the public imagination are often negative С depicting at best enforcement and at worst brutality. Think Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Ferguson С and so many other conflict locations throughout the country.

Princeton Chief of Police Nick Sutter sees vast changes in the nature of police work in the 21st century and the need for new approaches to the job. 

“We’ve changed focus,” Mr. Sutter declared, in discussing the Princeton Police Department 2015 annual report. “We’re doing so much more in terms of positive contacts.”

Enforcement is still an important part of what the police department must do, but the key themes looking forward, in addition to positive contacts, are education, prevention, communication, transparency, and proactive policing С with a heavy dose of technology for support.

In following up on President Obama’s May 2015 report, Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the Princeton Police Department (PPD) has found an opportunity to ensure that it is implementing “best practices for local police departments, that will assist not only with crime reduction but also with the building of trust and respect between the police departments and the communities they serve,” according to Mr. Sutter.

“We have already been doing many things that are in line with cutting-edge policy and in accord with the best practices nationwide,” Mr. Sutter added. “We have made a robust effort in improving community outreach.”

The 2015 PPD Report mentions a few of the many outreach events -initiated by the department, often in cooperation with the Safe Neighborhood Bureau or other community organizations. In addition to 43 school presentations during the course of the year, the PPD participated in the Wheels Rodeo (bike safety), the Corner House All Princeton Dodge-Ball Event (“Dodge DUI, Don’t Drive High!”), Car Seat Inspections, The Committed and Faithful Princetonians (bridging the gap between youth and police), Youth Police Academy, the Ride-Along Program, Community Night Out (with the Princeton Recreation Department) and others.`

The president’s Task Force constructed its report on six main “pillars of 21st century policing” that Mr. Sutter and the PPD are closely adhering to: 1. Building Trust and Legitimacy; 2. Policy and Oversight; 3. Technology and Social Media; 4. Community Policing and Crime Reduction; 5. Officer Training and Education; 6. Officer Safety and Wellness.

“It’s our new play book,” Mr. Sutter said, in commenting on the development of the PPD 2015-2018 strategic plan in accordance with the national guidelines.

Citing 2016 as “yet another year in which tensions between some local police departments and their communities took the national spotlight,” the PPD plan emphasizes “meeting the needs of the community,” “providing the law enforcement services our community expects and deserves,” “building upon the strong relationships already formed within the community while continuing to forge new relationships,” and “working together toward these common interests.”

Mr. Sutter mentioned that the community has identified major concerns with enforcement and traffic and that the PPD has responded. He pointed out that there was an increase in motor vehicle stops and summons issued in 2015 — “that’s part of our strategic plan” — in response to residents’ requests. “We’re out there proactively trying to make the streets safer,” he said.

The number of motor vehicle accidents in Princeton was down in 2015, and Mr. Sutter pointed out that the PPD has “a plan targeting the 20 highest accident areas in town. I’d like to see if the increased police presence affects the numbers of motor vehicle accidents there.”

Mr. Sutter explained that enforcement does not necessarily mean tickets or summonses, but often just making people aware, through police presence, “to slow them down. That’s where we’re focused.”

In the area of communication and technology, the department is facing its most rapidly-changing challenges. “We are absolutely committed to transparency,” Mr. Sutter said. “We’re trying to invent new ways of getting information out to the public.”

One innovation he mentioned is the PPD use of RAIDS (regional analysis and information sharing) online, which provides real-time information on crimes and their location to give citizens appropriate alerts and enhance community awareness and involvement.

Mr. Sutter also noted the Department’s increased use of Twitter and Nixle emergency alerts to communicate rapidly with the public.

In emphasizing the Department’s proactive focus on education and prevention, Mr. Sutter discussed the “public health issue” of opioid, particularly heroin, abuse — “more of a public safety issue affecting the community than a police enforcement issue. It can hit at any time, he said. “There are ways police can combat distribution, but possession and addiction are public health issues, demanding prevention and education measures. You’re not going to arrest your way out of the problem.”

Alcohol abuse is another problem that demands the community’s concerted engagement. “It’s important that we as a society recognize that it’s a health issue,” Mr. Sutter stated. “Education, support, and counseling are crucial.”

He noted that enforcement is only the final step in combating alcohol abuse and underage drinking. “There needs to be cooperation between law enforcement, parents and schools. Those conversations start at home with parents being mindful of what their children are doing and what the rules are. Then there needs to be education from the police department and then enforcement, but enforcement should be the final stage. When enforcement occurs, we as a community have failed.”

In summing up the new directions in which 21st-century policing and his department in particular are moving, Mr. Sutter reaffirmed the emphasis on positive contact and a favorable image of the police force. “We are doing a lot from the positive contact standpoint. Unfortunately people usually only see us in the enforcement role. Enforcement is part of it — that’s part of our job, but there’s a whole side of it that’s underrepresented. We want to focus on the positive contacts and help to change people’s perception of policing.”